Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Significance of Catchball

“A goal without a method is nonsense!”W. Edwards Deming

A critically important element of business planning that often gets downplayed or completely ignored is the catchball process.  The books and articles I've read on the subject of hoshin kanri tend to oversimplify the role of catchball and rarely go into the level of depth the subject deserves.

Catchball is a process whereby leaders and team members discuss objectives and plans to make sure everybody understands and is in agreement with expectations.  The conversations go back and forth between levels to assure that the objectives, as well as the plans to achieve the objectives are clearly communicated.

Catchball is often limited to the discussions at the executive level to sort out high level goals.  By not carrying the process through all levels of the organization, however, leaders are missing an important opportunity to communicate expectations and concerns before problems occur.

The objectives of catchball include:

Clarification:  Clarifying expectations to team members upfront rather than waiting until the performance review to criticize them for not meeting objectives that may never have been understood in the first place.  We tend to spend more time evaluating performance than we do making sure expectations are clear, which makes it appear as if we want people to fail more than we want the organization to succeed.

Consistency: Gaining comfort that a person can meet objectives through methods and behaviors that are consistent with the way the organization operates.  When the only concern is whether or not an objective is met (i.e., the "how" is ignored), we can easily create an Enron-type environment that undermines values, breaks down teamwork, and where improvements are not sustainable.

Coaching:  Providing a vehicle for coaching team members on the methods and behaviors required to be successful.  A critical component of development is to provide team members with objectives that stretch thinking and take them out of their comfort zone. Doing this without adequate coaching and direction, however, can be destructive to the person's development.

Communication/Dialogue:  Allowing people to communicate concerns to leaders about meeting objectives and asking help that may be needed to be successful.

Alignment:  Assuring that there is clear alignment between lower level plans or A3s and higher level plans and targets.

When implemented correctly, catchball can make up for many of the problems that companies experienced during the MBO-era.   It forces communication between levels and improves a leader’s understanding of the implications that objectives have on the people to which they are assigned.  Like anything in business, however, catchball requires continual improvement to be successful.  It requires patience and a willingness to listen to concerns, as well as a sincere effort by leaders to coach and mentor team members.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Time For Heroes

One of the issues that can arise during a lean transformation is figuring out how to deal with the corporate heroes that exist in virtually every organization.  These are the “go to guys” whenever a major problem arises.  They are generally hard workers, know their processes well, and measure their worth by the number of highly visible problems they are involved in solving.

This can become a significant issue because a lean thinking organization values those who prevent problems and work well in teams more than those who wait until problems occur and swoop in to save the day.  The behavior often exhibited by the heroes is the opposite of what you are trying to establish in the transformation.

On the positive side, heroes tend to be hard working, smart, and highly experienced in the company’s operation – all things that are valuable to the organization’s success.  On the negative side, however, these people often have a hand in creating problems, or at least have the ability to address problems before they become critical or high profile issues.  They also tend to keep important process information close to the vest because they view it as a key to their success.

The Difficulty in Changing Hero Behavior

One of the biggest issues in dealing with the heroes is that, for years we have rewarded them for the behavior they exhibit.  Heroes tend to like a lot of attention and publicly delivered compliments for their actions.  As the organization becomes more lean-focused, though, it becomes clearer to people that addressing problems means understanding and addressing root causes so we can reduce the likelihood that they will occur in the future.  We cannot tolerate people who have the ability to prevent problems but wait until they occur before taking action.

Getting heroes to understand the consequences of their behavior will require a lot of coaching and one-on-one discussions to help them realize that they may have been rewarded and promoted in the past for the wrong reasons. And although changing behavior is a difficult and often futile undertaking, it is the responsibility of the leader to make the effort because the problem we are addressing is most likely one we created.

In many instances, it is critical to get the hero involved in the development of standard work because they understand their processes so well.  We must attempt to document and make available to everyone information that they have most likely held close in the past.  This is a process that will have to be tested and retested in order to assure that all necessary information has been extracted from the person and effectively documented.

Step 1: Recognize the Problem

Addressing the problem of hero worship will not be easy.  Correcting behaviors first requires admitting that heroes are, in fact, a problem. Chances are, you and others have come to rely on these people when high impact problems occurred. Recognizing that is is a crutch for ineffective processes, however, will help you see the situation more clearly.

Expect a lot of complaining, pushback, and even attrition as you embark on the process of bringing heroes back down to earth. Like any change process, though, succeeding will require clarity in the vision and consistency in the message.